Read This Before Transitioning Out of the Restaurant Industry

Read This Before Transitioning Out of the Restaurant Industry
AJ Beltis

By AJ Beltis

It’s the end of another tough shift. The kitchen ran out of the salmon half-way through the night, one of the barback's called in sick with a flu, and your biggest table left without leaving a single penny. You’re thinking maybe you and the restaurant world just aren’t compatible...

Or are you?

The average time someone works in a restaurant is less than two months, which means people are regularly moving around to different restaurants or transitioning out of the industry pretty frequently. This trend may give you pause, but don’t let it discourage you from giving yourself and the restaurant you’re at a fair shot before throwing in the towel.

There are a ton of opportunities working in a restaurants – from cooking, to supporting, managing, serving and hosting guests, to ensuring financial success – there are a lot of directions your career can take before needing to consider transitioning out o the restaurant industry.

So before you pull the plug, read on for a few handy antidotes to the common restaurant pains you might be feeling. You may come to the realization that you’re not ready to leave just yet.

7 Signs You May Be Looking to Transition Out of the Restaurant Industry

Be it scheduling struggles, pay, or the need to feel seen, heard, and considered, people have very different (and often valid) reasons for wanting to get out of the restaurant industry. Here are a few of the common ones, and why they seem to be a consistent challenge.

Chef looking scared

1. You Don’t Like the Role

Sometimes, settling into the routine of one job can lead to a rut – this can be a common pain for people in any position in a restaurant. Servers might look into the kitchen and be jealous of the creativity cooks get to incorporate into their jobs, while those same cooks may be jealous of the servers’ tips and interactions with fresh faces. It’s unfortunate, but the-grass-is-greener-itis can–and does happen.

2. You Don’t Like Your Restaurant

Sometimes it’s the clientele or a coworker. Sometimes it’s the commute or the scheduling. There are a hundred and one reasons why the restaurant you’re at can start looking like a bad fit, and while some of the reasons you’re not happy at your current job are under your control– the reality is, some just aren't.

3. You Crave Professional Growth

One of the big themes in the new 7shifts restaurant workplace happiness study is worker engagement, and how employees with better training and clearer paths to promotions are significantly happier. With all of the immediate matters that managers need to deal with–like inventory shortages, staff no shows, and customer complaints, longer-term projects like employee career path development can fall through the cracks. If this has happened to you, and you are motivated to develop your career, you may find yourself feeling professionally unfulfilled.

4. You’re Too Stressed Out

There’s a reason why “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” is the go-to phrase about dealing with stressful situations. Kitchens – and the restaurants that house them – are stressful places. Working at a restaurant is exhilarating, fast-paced, but undeniably stressful. While some thrive on it, others don’t – but that’s occasionally to do with being in the wrong role or at the wrong restaurant.

5. You Want to Earn More

Many restaurant workers are observing an enormous wage gap between various positions in their restaurant. At slower restaurants, back-of-house employees see steady wages, while front-of-house workers settle for the tip credit wage. At busier restaurants, that back-of-house pay rate pales in comparison to the hundreds of dollars per night a server will earn. Because of tight profit margins, restaurateurs have their hands tied when it comes to pay, and employees are feeling that pain

6. You Can’t Work the Hours

A Monday through Friday, nine to five schedule is almost nonexistent in restaurants. More likely it’s Monday lunch, off on Tuesday, on call Wednesday night, doubles on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and on call again Sunday night. It’s eye-rolling just to think about, and makes planning with friends and trying to see family an absolute nightmare.

7. The Job Was Seasonal

High school and college students need to go back to class once spring, or the next semester starts. Summer restaurants close or cut staff for the off season. Typically, both managers and employees know of this situation before the new hire starts, but given the nature of the industry and its workforce, it’s no surprise that this is one of the more common reasons people hang up their apron – even if only temporarily.

6 Things to Try Before Getting Out of the Restaurant Industry

Cook passing food to a server

When something’s broken, you try fixing it before throwing it away. Do the same with work.

Don’t let one or a few bad experiences deter you from a career in this exciting industry. And if you must leave, be sure you’re quitting for internal, rather than external reasons. Here are a few ways to reignite your passion for working in restaurants. Do any convince you to stay in the restaurant game for a little (or a lot) longer and see if things change? Only one way to find out..

Get at it!

1. Ask for a Raise or a Promotion

NHL legend Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Being direct and requesting what you want is the shortest path to getting it.

Letting your manager know that you’re looking to increase what you earn as the overall business grows, shows them that you consider yourself a key contributor to your restaurant’s success, and puts the responsibility on them to directly affirm or deny that assumption. If your manager recognizes your excellent performance and see’s your intention to take on more, they may be happy to give you that promotion. Money is important, and good managers will be prepared and happy to have these conversations with eager employees.

If they disagree and deny your request, you can ask them for specific direction on how to improve, and increase the chances of getting that raise once you incorporate your performance feedback.

If a flat-out raise isn’t an option at the time you make the request, here are a couple of tactics you can suggest to your managers in place of a pay increase.

  • Inquire about a promotion. Let your manager know you’re interested in growing your standing in the restaurant industry and would like more responsibility through a promotion. This should put you in your manager’s line of sight for when new opportunities in the restaurant arise, and you can request to work more closely with your manager for what work needs to be done to get you to where you want to be, what a timeline for growth would look like, and how much extra you can expect to earn in the new role.
  • Start a conversation around a kitchen service fee. If you’re in the back of house, ask leadership if they would be open to implementing a kitchen service fee. This is a small, percentage-based fee passed on to the guest to benefit back-of-house employees, who are ineligible to benefit from server tips. The trend is growing, as it raises employee wages at no cost to the restaurant and just a marginal cost to the consumer.
  • Ask about benefits. While more money per hour or per year might not be in the budget, benefits are often negotiable. See if paid time off, yearly performance-based employee bonuses, profit sharing, or more generously comped meals can be discussed in place of a larger paycheck every other Friday.

2. Share Engagement and Recognition Ideas

Working at a restaurant can be draining, and without moral support or direct feedback, the urge to explore other career options can be unnecessarily enticing. This is one of the reasons why employees so often seek ways to receive more recognition from leadership for their contributions.

Receiving direct feedback on how you’re missing, meeting, or surpassing performance expectations can often take a back seat amid a manager’s urgent, daily concerns in a restaurant. So when you and your manager have a chance to talk, suggest one or some of these team recognition tactics and explain the benefits they would have on the team. Bonus: bringing these ideas to your manager will showcase your own initiative and leadership skills.

  • Employee Gamification Programs. Gamification turns restaurant work into challenges and games, such as “who can be the first to sell 10 bottles of wine tonight,” or “who prepared the most Insta-worthy dish of the night.” Management can give a public congrats to that employee at the end of the shift, or offer a small monetary reward like a $10 coffee shop gift card or a fully-comped meal.
  • Employee of the Month. Employee of the month is a tried and true way of acknowledging the employees who go above and beyond in their daily duties. This keeps employees engaged and gives them something to work towards, which by extension leads to a more engaged, invested workforce. For the price of a reusable plaque to hang in the back office (and whatever gift comes with the honor), this initiative pays for itself.
  • Staff Parties or Events. Getting the team together for special occasions like holidays, promotions is a great way to communally celebrate you and your team’s work in a restaurant. These events also create opportunities  to socialize and bond with fellow staff without having to do work. You can even pitch the option of catering with the restaurant’s own food to save money.
  • More Informal Acknowledgement. If these ideas are still out for budgetary reasons, simply suggest that your managers could do a better job of informally giving public or private kudos to the employees who make it possible to keep the restaurant open, and so any chance for them to give positive feedback would do wonders for morale and productivity. It’s hard to argue with that since it doesn’t cost a dime.

It will take time and effort to get these programs fully implemented, but once they are, employees will feel much more recognized, appreciated, and engaged.

3. Ask for More Training and Resources

Less than 60% of restaurants provide new hires with training manuals, while less than 50% of restaurants offer a training or orientation session. You may feel frustrated and like you’re not doing your job to the fullest if you were not adequately prepared or did not receive a clear set of expectations from your boss.

See if your manager has – or is willing to invest in – a training programs or documentation that outlines the responsibilities, processes and expectations of your job, this way you know when and where you’re falling short, and what to focus on to improve.

You could also ask to spend some time shadowing other employees or managers to see how they do their jobs and ask them how you might change things up to do yours better.

4. Suggest New Technologies

Someone scheduling on 7shifts on a laptop

If that old and glitchy POS or scribbled-over schedule in the office is taking a toll on your sanity, making regular, routine tasks more difficult than the need to be, suggest that management invest in modern order-taking hardware or scheduling software. Reports indicate that restaurants that have implemented online ordering have seen an impressive 11 to 20% increase in sales.

For your own sake, it can be a huge sigh of relief to know that managing reservations, sending orders to the kitchen, and requesting time off can be done without headaches time and again. The restaurant industry is evolving, and tech is taking the edge off of mundane, repetitive tasks in more ways than one.

This might require a little homework, but looking into the ROI on these technologies, presenting it to management, and explaining the impact on workplace productivity (and thus profitability) could be enough to spark their interest or start a valuable conversation that could lead to saving a lot of time and money for everyone.

5. Go to a Different Restaurant

We get it – your boss is the worst, you don’t gel with your team, nothing stays clean for long, and your commute is a lot longer than you’d like. There are reasons outside your control pulling you from your job, so you’ve got to go. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to get out of the restaurant industry all together. Maybe it means you need to get out of the restaurant you’re at?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than five million people work in restaurants. With such a high industry turnover rate – meaning restaurants are often left with vacant positions – it’s safe to assume there are plenty of other restaurants you can work for in your area. You may want to try working at a different restaurant concept, a different type or restaurant, or in a different neighbourhood before calling it quits all together.

6. Work At A Company That Works With Restaurants

Maybe you’ve read through this entire article and decided you still don’t want to work in a restaurant. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work with restaurants.

If the main reasons you’re getting out are because you want better hours and pay – but you still love the restaurant industry – you might still be able to incorporate restaurants into your job. You could work for:

  • A restaurant technology company like 7shifts, where industry experience is always a plus when applying. You could have a real impact in helping to improve the restaurant industry through technology and innovation, and your hands won’t get greasy either.
  • A restaurant food provider, where you can contribute to the supply chain of the food in restaurants without having to set foot in one ever again.
  • A restaurant chain corporate office, working in recruiting, marketing, sales, customer service, or HR. Your chances are even better if you’ve worked for a franchise in the company you’re applying for, since you can bring your experience to the corporate side of operations.

Ready to Give it Another Shot?

Hopefully, some soul searching (and this article) have convinced you that getting out of the restaurant industry shouldn’t be your next move after all. If your managers are receptive to change, propose some of the ideas listed above for better growth and acknowledgement in addition to less stress and frustration.

If you can’t seem to improve your current working situation, try working at a different restaurant before hanging up your chef hat, or look into other careers that support or work alongside the restaurant industry if you still have a passion for it.

There are plenty of next steps to take, but leaving the restaurant industry might not be the one for you after all.

If you're interested in continuing your career in the restaurant industry, you should familiarize yourself with the different types of restaurants and the positions available. Read our blog post for more information: Working in A Restaurant: Everything You Need to Know

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AJ Beltis
AJ Beltis

AJ Beltis is a freelance writer with almost a decade of experience in the restaurant industry. He currently works as a content manager at HubSpot, and previously as a blogger at Toast.